Recent research from Packaged Facts projects sales of gluten-free products in the US will continue to grow almost 20% annually through 2019 to reach a whopping $2.34 billion. According to the report, much of this growth is coming from products that go beyond just gluten-free to offer a unique selling proposition or value-added component, such as added vegetables and legumes for increased nutrition or ancient grains for flavor.
Chris Krenzel, director of sales and procurement for Firebird Artisan Mills, which specializes in only gluten free grains, agrees that gluten free remains strong, but is evolving.
“The trend has changed several times in the last five to six years. When gluten-free first came out, a lot of starches and rices were used – but [with] lots of sugars and salts to kind of hide the taste,” he told FoodNavigator-USA at IFT in Chicago. “Now, we are seeing a lot more of the ancient grains being put into the blends, some more of the pulses to get the protein levels up,” and as a result gluten-free options are “much more nutritious than they have been in the past.”
They also have more flavor variety, he said. “Quinoa has more of a nutty flavor used in cookies and bread, where amaranth has more of a pepper taste to it. When you get into the peas and pulses and lentils, they have a bean taste to them.”
Another added value of using ancient grains as the base for gluten-free products is that many are Non-GMO, “which is a great selling point to a lot of retailers,” Krenzel said.
“Giving people an option to buy products that contain different tastes … with nutritional value is hugely important now,” he added.
Just because many ancient grains are naturally gluten-free, doesn’t mean that manufacturers or suppliers can rest on their laurels, Krenzel said. Having a complete, high quality testing process is essential.
“An allergy is important to people. Years ago, we didn’t talk about allergies the way we do now. It is extremely important with people who have children that we not only reduce the allergies,” but meet a standard that is higher than what FDA recommends, Krenzel said.
That is why Firebird Artisan Mills has a gluten-free certifying standard that is half FDA’s, Krenzel said. He explained Firebird’s standard is 10 parts of gluten per million, and about 95% of its products are under 5 parts per million, compared to FDA’s standard of 20 parts per million.
“We work very closely with our suppliers to make sure that when we get the product it is indeed gluten free,” he said. He added that Firebird tests incoming grains, in-process and when the product leaves, using an in-house lab that is comparable to that of a third party lab.
Being gluten-free “is a very important part of our business and we are not going to put a product on the shelf that hasn’t met our standards,” he emphasized.
Looking forward, Krenzel said maintaining a high level of safety will become increasingly important as will providing gluten free options that go beyond just the allergy to tap into other health and nutrition trends.